Ubergizmo Xperia Z2 frontside 640x430Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet is the successor to Sony Xperia Z Tablet (announced in February 2013, available in the U.S. in May 2013) and Sony Xperia S (released September 2012). The company debut the Z2 this February, hailing it as “the slimmest, lightweight waterproof tablet.” By then, Apple’s iPad Air had already been in the market for a few months (and speculations about the lighter, thinner iPad Air 2 is now circulating in the air, so to speak).

Every mobile tablet invariably gets compared to the latest iPad (for the present, that’s the iPad Air), still considered by many to be the reigning champion. But I think it’s worth considering the Z2 as a slightly different specimen, more a multimedia slate than a work-and-play tablet.

You can still retrieve emails, sync up calendars, play games, and stream YouTube clips on the Z2, as you could on most mobile devices. However, the device’s widescreen format, high-contrast TRILUMINOS HD display, and S-Forge Surround Sound betray its desire to be a miniature movie screen, a handheld theater, if you will. So, instead of comparing the Z2 to the iPad feature by feature, I chose to assess the Z2 based on how well it does what it aims to do.

Context

As a household name in multimedia and entertainment hardware, Sony must know its slim tablet has to satisfy hardcore fans: those who want to watch full-length movies on a plane, surf Facebook from a WiFi-enabled café for hours, and tap their feet to a playlist that stretches on for 100s of tracks. So I’m putting myself in such a user’s place as I put the Z2 through its paces.

I also happen to dabble in digital art (a semi-serious sketcher). When used with a stylus, a tablet is the ideal device for to draw digitally. So I promptly downloaded Autodesk SketchBook Xpress (a free painting and drawing app) on the Z2 for a test drive (test draw, to be precise). Even though people don’t use their tablet as the primary photo-snapping device, Sony touts the Z2’s 8.1 megapixel camera with preloaded effects as one of its attractions, so I’m playing shutterbug with it.

In a phone call with me, Sony’s Xperia brand marketing manager Stephen Sneeden singled out specifically the device’s waterproofing technology as a remarkable innovation. I’m not planning to go as far as watching a movie on the Z2 as I soak in the bathtub (as depicted in the Sony’s promotional video), but I do intend to do a dunk test. I’ll save it as the last thing I review, in case the device goes into shock from it.

XPERIA Z2 Tablet Specs Highlights

Dimensions: 172 x 266 x 6.4 mm (6.8 x 10.47 x 0.25 inches)
Weight: 439 grams (15.49 oz)
Display: 10.1-inch diagonally, 16,777,216 colors, 1,920 x 1,200 pixels
Special feature: Waterproof (to IP55 and IP58 standards), dust-resistant (to IP55 standard)
OS: Google Android 4.4 (KitKat)
Processor: 2.3 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 Gen 2 (MSM8974AB), quad-core with Adreno 330 GPU
RAM: 3 GB
Flash memory: Up to 16 GB
Expansion slot: microSD card, up to 128 GB

Design (Very Good+)

Ubergizmo Xperia Z2 back 640x454

At 15.5 oz, the Z2 Tablet is lighter than a magazine you’d pick up at a newsstand. (For comparison, I held the tablet in one hand and a 350-page copy of Vanity Fair in another. The magazine distinctly felt heavier.) The Z2 Tablet’s quarter-inch slim design makes the device feels like a small, portable clipboard. The lightweight design, the rounded edges, and the widescreen format add to the comfort of the device, especially for extended handheld use.

The auto-rotate feature lets you view content horizontally or vertically. For certain aspects of social-media browsing, such as following a discussion thread or reading a news feed, the tall slate’s vertical mode proves much more efficient, because your eyes can trace the content from top to bottom without repeated scrolling.

Ubergizmo Xperia Z2 compare iPad2 640x480

Next to an iPad

With slightly rounded edges, the bezel hugs the screen tightly. The fit is so tight that you might have some difficulty spotting the speakers, the charging port, and the memory slot. The two speakers are barely visible through the thumbnail slits located at the lower edges of the frame. (Since the Z2 Tablet looks nearly identical from all sides, I should clarify what I consider top and what bottom. In my view, the side with the etched serial number, earphone plug, and docking port should be the bottom.)

The microSD card slot gives you the option to expand your storage—without having to resort to WiFi-connected cloud storage. To access the well-hidden charging port and the microSD card housing, you’d need to use your nail to pry open the covers at the top. The design seals off every opening, slot, or port with its bezel because that’s how it waterproofs itself.

Multimedia Experience (Very Good+)

Ubergizmo Xperia Z2 frontside 640x430At 6.8 x 10.5 inches, the Z2 Tablet has the aspect ratio and the horizontal stretch needed to mimic a widescreen movie, albeit at a smaller scale. The TRILUMINOS HD display, designed to show a wider range of colors, adds contrast and color intensity, making the photos more vivid and the movies more dramatic.

Xperia Z2 Spider Man Trailer 640x400

When watching a movie with explosions, you can feel the vibration from the Surround Sound system on the device itself, which adds to the viewing experience. If you pause or stop a movie midway and move on to another app, when you return, you’ll find the movie silently playing in the background from the last place watched, which adds to the richness of the viewing experience.

The speaker placement is discreet and ideal for holding the device in both hands to watch content. However, when holding the device, I find that my left hand sometimes collided with the volume bars on the bezel, right below the power button. So for extended viewing (like a movie), using a portable mounting stand (not included) may be better.

Camera (Good)

xperia z2 vs iphone 4s photosBy its very nature, a tablet or a slate isn’t ideal for photo taking. You can’t, for example, take photos singlehandedly on a tablet like you would with a phone. Older tablets like the iPad 2, for example, are quite clunky to use for photo snapping. Its book-like aspect ratio and heaviness get in the way of convenient photo snapping.

Xperia Z2 camera filters 640x400By contrast, the Z2 Tablet’s lightweight and clipboard-like form factor (long and thin) makes it much easier to use as a photo device. The device’s 8.1 megapixel camera works quite well in capturing good quality images. However, in test shots done for comparison with the iPhone 4S’s 8 megapixel iSight camera, the iPhone 4S’s images produce slightly superior contrast and lushness in colors. The Z2’s camera is preloaded with filters and effects you can apply to your photos. You can look at the full-size photos on Ubergizmo’s flickr account.

Drawing (Very Good)

xperia z2 drawing app 640x400As a drawing device, the slate works incredibly well, largely due to its lightweight. Since the most natural drawing position is at about 15- to 20-degree angle, you’ll most likely have to hold the device with one hand while you draw with a stylus in the other hand.

Therefore, the lighter the device, the easier it’ll be on your wrist in lengthy drawing sessions. In sunny, outdoor environment, the Z2 Tablet’s display suffers from reflection just like most tablets that use reflective LED technology (different from the glare-free E Ink used by Amazon Kindle in its gray-scale models).

Software

The Z2 Tablet runs on Google Androit 4.4 KitKat, which comes with voice-enabled search. The Pro Office Suite gives you a way to read and edit common word files and spreadsheets. It also includes backup and restore through SD card or USB storage to prevent data loss should the device become inoperable. The Play Movie and TV app and the Video Unlimited app give you instant access to additional content available for purchase and streaming. The Remote Control app lets you sync up your home TV or another device with the tablet so you can control it from your mobile tablet.

Battery (Very Good+)

xperia z2 tablet benchmark battery life video

The Z2 Tablet comes with Battery Stamina mode, which automatically suspends power-draining functions like WiFi and mobile data transfer. Even without the Stamina mode, after a day and a half of intermittent usage (some video streaming, movie playing, photo taking, and Facebook surfing), I find that the Z2 still has 74% of its battery from the last full charge. I let a HD movie clip (provided by Sony with the device) ran in a loop for an hour at screen brightness 50%. At the end of an hour, the battery drain was only 10%, which would yield a theoretical battery life of 10 hours for watching movies.

xperia z2 tablet benchmark battery capacity mah

Performance (Very Good)

The Sony Z2 Tablet is powered by a 2.3 GHz Qualcomm quad-core processor. Its performance is evident when you navigate through high-def photos with millions of colors, or when you’re drawing. In under-powered devices, you feel the stickiness phenomenon—the outcome of the delay between your command and the device’s response. The Z2 has the opposite of stickiness—smooth navigation through your multimedia content, thumbnails, and movies.

Benchmarks

I ran three benchmark tests on the Z2 Tablet: GFX Bench, to test OpenGL graphics performance; 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, to test gaming hardware robustness; and Geekbench 3, to test processor performance.

On 3DMark, the Xperia Z2 Tablet scored slightly differently during three different runs: 15810, 16612, and 15411. The run that resulted in 16612 was under ideal conditions: The device has been freshly turned back on; all the mechanisms have cooled down; no other programs were open.

The two other runs yielding 15810 and 15411 represent normal operating conditions: The device has been on and at work for a while; a couple of other programs were open. If I take the mid-range score of 15810 on 3DMark, the Xperia Z2 Tablet is between iPhone 5S (13931) and the LG G2 (15861). The highest performance recorded on 3DMark’s device channel was Xiaomi MI-3, which racked up 19033. The MI-3 runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 8274AB 2.3GHz processor.

xperia z2 tablet benchmark 3dmark icestormunlimited

On Geekbench, the Z2 Tablet scored 711 (single-threaded, ST) and 1997 (multi-threaded, MT) when it was freshly turned on, without any other programs running. The device scored 694 (ST) and 1960 (MT) when it had been on for a while, with a couple of programs also open. In what might represent an overworked mode, it scored 540 (ST) and 1247 (MT).

If I take the mid-range scores 694 (ST) and 1960 (MT) to be a fair representation of normal operations. Performance-wise, the Xperiza Z2 Tablet is comparable to the Nexus 7, the LG G Pad, which are two good tablets as well. 

xperia z2 tablet benchmark geekbench3 multi

xperia z2 tablet benchmark geekbench3 single

On GFX (previously known as GLBenchmark), running the Manhattan and T-Rex tests in 1080p off-screen mode, the Xperia Z2 Tablet scored 11.7 fps and 27.2 fps respectively when freshly turned on with no other applications; and 11.6 fps and 27.5 fps after being in use for a while, with a few competing programs. The XPERIA Z2 tablet scores particularly well with legacy OpenGL ES applications.

xperia z2 tablet benchmark gfx trex offscreen

Waterproof (Very Good+)

For the finale, I took the Z2 Tablet out to my local café and poured a cup of water over it (while astonished onlooker watched). When the flaps for the charging port and the memory card were sealed, the device seemed fully protected. My biggest worry was the speaker slots, designed as indentations along the lower corner where the bezel meets the screen.

What if water should seep through those openings into the inner circuitry? But my concerns tuned out to be unwarranted. The water quickly rolled off the screen, and after a few dabs with a towel to dry the device, it was operating as normal. It convinced me the device would withstand normal water contact, like splashes from the bathtub, moisture from wet hands, or accidental spill over the device. It’s important, though, to keep the cover flaps firmly closed if you’re going to expose it to water. Check out my video:

Conclusion (Very Good)

Ubergizmo Xperia Z2 vertical 640x480Weighing 15.5 oz and measuring 0.25 inch thick, the Z2 Tablet is a hairbreadth lighter and slimmer than the iPad Air, which weighs 1 LB and measures 0.29 inch thick. Suggested price for the Z2 is $499, same as the iPad Air’s published price. The Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet is a great device for multimedia fans in search of a portable, personal viewer.

It’s also a great way to present your creative work, like digital drawings and photography, to clients. The X-Reality color enhancement makes them look sharper. It’s light enough for extended handheld usage, so, with a few apps that can mimic the painting process, you could use the device for outdoor sketching and drawing. (Beware of sun glare, however.) Because of the waterproof feature, you may choose to operate the Z2 Tablet by the pool or in the bathtub with little or no anxiety of water damage.

Overall product rating: 8/10

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